Writing 101: Into the Woods

For today’s assignment, we’re writing a description of a place. Those of us foolhardy to already be in the middle of some other project can describe our setting.

Kronland, is a slightly alternate early modern Germany.made up of twelve loosely associated kingdoms. Of these, Terragand is the largest and most important and where much of the action takes place.

forestLike the rest of Kronland, Terragand is a green, rainy, heavily forested land. Several large rivers cut through forest and mountains, and it’s along these that the biggest and most important castles and cities have sprung up and flourished. While there is a lively culture of commerce, art and scholarship, much of the land is still drenched in darkness and superstition. The forests are vast, terrifying places; many who go in never come out again.

Even though the educated upper classes laugh about it, the people who live in the countryside still believe in witches, elves, dwarves, giants, and even the occasional dragon. And the truth is that the most enlightened folk are likely to become a bit nervous when they enter the woods. Even from a well-traveled road, many strange noises are heard, and the air is close, dense and very very green. Even the most devout practitioners of the current faith are sometimes left wondering if they shouldn’t offer up a prayer- or maybe even a small sacrifice- to the spirits of the old gods who still seem very present in the deep silence of the old forests.

Great armies have marched through these lands, some of them completely swallowed by it. In one clearing you can still see the ruins of a fortress built by people who conquered it, temporarily. They built homes, gardens, baths and arenas here, but in time they were pushed out by those who were here first. It is said that the trees themselves lashed at the retreating foreigners, while the rivers overflowed and chased them back down the roads they had built.

In the clearings, which grow larger every year, and where the rulers have built their palaces and the merchants their towns, much of this has been forgotten. Here, the sun shines brighter and the rivers sparkle blue as they cut between terraced hills laden with grapevines and orchards. But there are days when dark clouds roll over the sky, the wind howls around stone walls, and the dark edges of the forest seems to creep back into the open spaces.

There are those who believe that humans will soon understand everything about the world and how it works. All mysteries will be explained and no one will say that a giant stole the goat that disappeared, or that the elves came into your house at night and finished sewing the buttons on your new jacket. There are no old gods in the trees, and no dragons sleep deep in the mountains. Those mountains are full of copper, coal and bright stones, and men- not dwarves- dig deep into their roots to mine them.

But when chaos returns to this land, as it always does, those who know the forest know that it will protect itself and those who belong in it. Soon, more armies will march through. Some trees will be hacked down, and some streams will run red with blood. The people and animals of the woods will have to take refuge even deeper in the trees, but only for a while. Those armies will go again, just as they always have, the saplings will grow, and moss will cover the ground until it looks once again like no one has ever dared to come here.

photo credit: dmelchordiaz via photopin


6 thoughts on “Writing 101: Into the Woods

  1. It is a good description but it doesn’t sound personal. You are describing the scene as an outsider looking in and the reader feels like an outsider looking in. I’m not degrading your writing because it is very good. But you asked how we feel when we read it.

    1. Thank you – that is very useful feedback. That may be one reason I feel like my descriptions aren’t quite effective. Something to work on!

  2. I kind of agree with Priceless Joy. I mean I get what she is saying. Your writing is good, but I think some personality would enhance it. Although it would be hard to add personality to this whole piece because it’s so long. In a book you get a few lines of the setting, and then it’s easier to frame it within the context of the story. It’s something I struggle with as well, even more so with descriptions of people. I wrote a setting description recently that has some personality. At least I think it does? Maybe XD

    “Zack strapped on his backpack, and then wrapped Cloud’s arm around his neck, and they set off through the forest, walking slowly through the dense undergrowth, dragging their feet, stumbling along the way like vagrants sentenced to wander the planet for eternity as penance. While the world around them was being sapped of its life energy, foliage decaying into dust, thick clouds of smog blanketing the sky, frogs dying belly up in stagnant water, this forest seemed to stand in defiance of modern innovation. It was an artifact from another time, before the era of ShinRa. The trees towered above them, reaching up to the heavens, praying for a salvation that would never come. The atmosphere was quiet and somber as they passed through, much like a funeral procession, deference to something greater than themselves.”

    Within the context of the story it’s easier to give the setting a personality. It’s something I struggle with as well. I couldn’t do it for something longer than a paragraph though :$ In the story the planet is dying because the mega corporation of ShinRa is sucking the life-energy out of the planet. That’s what I tried to reflect in that passage. Hopefully I did XD

    1. Yes, I think part of my problem was trying to write a passage cut off from the rest of the story. I really like yours above- I got such a great sense of the decay and destruction. I think that’s something that my story lacks at this point. I’ve been really focused on dialogue and moving the action along, so now I really need to work on setting the scene a bit better.

      I just love your writing- it’s so rich and textured!

      1. That’s because I’m just showing you the good parts XD I have quite a few problems with my writing :$ I spent so much energy on my prose that I neglected important things like plot, lol. Right now I’m spending a lot of effort on cutting out unnecessary parts of the story. I go off on lots of tangents, many of which don’t move the story along or contribute to characterization.

        You have nice prose, which is quite a bit of the battle 🙂 Dialogue and action are important too! It’s all important, which is why writing is so difficult XD I struggle a lot with people descriptions. I just want to write a list of their features, lol. I know what it should sound like, but I have problems writing it.

        Not sure if you would be into it, but one of my favorite authors writes the most beautiful landscape descriptions, Cormac McCarthy. If you are interested I would recommend his novel, The Road: http://www.amazon.com/The-Road-Cormac-McCarthy/dp/0307387895/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410939793&sr=8-1&keywords=the+road

        You can actually read like 95% of it for free. If you click on the “Look Inside,” feature you’ll get most of the novel. He has a unique style, so people either love it or hate it. It’s okay with me if you don’t want to read it or don’t like it. Just thought I would throw it out there 😉

      2. I tend to ignore physical descriptions and try to work in bits and pieces every now and then. So no one knows how anyone looks. 🙂

        Isn’t that just the way writing is, though? I sometimes feel like I’m spinning plates. Get one thing right, and then you’ve got to fix five others. 🙂

        Thanks for the McCarthy rec. He’s one of those writers I’ve always thought I should read and never have.

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